|Regional News | Article
published Monday, September 30, 2002|
Broken pact is focus of Brush Wellman trial
Norgard: one of 2 suits he filed.
BLADE STAFF WRITER
CLEVELAND - A Michigan man who says his salary
was wrongly cut off by Brush Wellman five years after he was
diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease will take his case to court
The breach-of-contract trial between the company and
David Norgard of Manitou Beach, Mich., is expected to last less than
a week in Cuyahoga Common Pleas Court.
At issue is a contract
Mr. Norgard says he signed with Brush Wellman that called for the
company to continue paying him a salary after he contracted
beryllium disease in 1992. "In 1992, when he was diagnosed with
chronic beryllium disease, they told him, ‘Go home and get on with
your life, and we will continue to pay you,’" and then cut him off,
said Louise Roselle, a Cincinnati attorney representing Mr.
Beryllium disease is an incurable, sometimes fatal,
lung disease caused by inhaling beryllium, a lightweight metal used
largely in the defense industry.
In 1999, The Blade published
a six-part series documenting a 50-year pattern of misconduct by the
federal government and the beryllium industry, including wrongdoing
that caused the injuries and deaths of dozens of workers.
Norgard began working at Brush’s Elmore plant in 1981 and, according
to the lawsuit, developed a rash shortly after. In October, 1981, he
signed a contract in which Brush Wellman agreed to pay his salary
until he was of legal retirement age, In the ensuing years, he
visited doctors and had tests done under Brush Wellman’s direction
but was not told until 1992 that he had chronic beryllium disease,
the suit says.
After he was diagnosed, Mr. Norgard left the
company but continued to be paid. He worked on and off in different
jobs for Brush Wellman. He also suffered from depression, and a
counselor said it was because of the beryllium disease and the
pressure Brush was putting on him, the lawsuit states.
1996, Brush told Mr. Norgard he had to return to work and assigned
him to work in community service at the Toledo Museum of Art. Mr.
Norgard refused, saying it was not part of his agreement.
suit alleges that Brush pressured Mr. Norgard into taking the job,
even after a counselor wrote to the company saying the pressure was
harming Mr. Norgard, who was suffering from depression.
Wellman cut off Mr. Norgard’s pay in 1997, the suit says. Mr.
Norgard is asking for back pay and legal fees.
Wellman contends it agreed to pay Mr. Norgard when he was not
working if he was unable to work or if the company could not provide
work for him. Court records filed by Brush show Mr. Norgard could
work and the company had a job for him, but he did not want to work
for Brush Wellman.
"Plaintiff is capable of working. He just
refuses to work for Brush, purportedly because he has a strong
dislike of the company," court records state.
also argues Mr. Norgard cannot claim handicap discrimination based
on depression and beryllium disease because the law simply requires
the company to provide accommodations so the handicapped employee
This is one of two lawsuits Mr. Norgard has filed
against Brush Wellman. The other is an intentional tort suit
accusing Brush Wellman of intentionally exposing Mr. Norgard to
conditions that gave him chronic beryllium disease.
appeals court threw the case out, ruling that the suit, filed in
1997, has passed its statute of limitations because workers have two
years from the time they are diagnosed and have an idea what caused
it. Mr. Norgard’s attorneys took the case to the Ohio Supreme Court,
arguing that it was not until 1995 that Mr. Norgard received
information that made him believe Brush intentionally withheld
information about the causes of chronic beryllium
The Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Norgard. The case
is now pending.